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Having lost just seven games in her last six sets at the US Open, Sharapova seeks the second Slam quarterfinal of her comeback.  A round after a double-bagel demolition of an American wildcard, however, Maria confronts an adversary who recorded a double bagel in the previous round and has dropped just three games in the entire tournament.  Riding a twelve-match winning streak, Wozniacki entered the Open after capturing consecutive titles in Montreal and New Haven, which placed her in position to acquire the top ranking here if she wins a maiden major.  Hitherto winless against former #1s, the Pole-Dane has feasted upon the rank and file of the WTA without quite cracking the Slam stranglehold of the veterans.  Committing herself to steady improvement, Wozniacki has endeavored to add offensive weapons to her counterpunching repertoire, including a flatter forehand.  This match presents the opportunity for her to demonstrate her ability to exchange blows with the mightiest sluggers in her sport, the final step in her evolution.  For the moment, though, the match lies in Sharapova’s hands; Maria knows that she won’t be outserved or outhit from the baseline.  Succinctly summing up the task before her, the 2006 champion remarked that she must be “aggressively patient” rather than pulling the trigger too early in rallies.  The balance between fearless ball-striking and careful point construction comprises a challenge as mental as it is physical, requiring Sharapova to rely upon her steely concentration.  In order to oust the top seed, Maria must connect with a high percentage of first serves as she did in her previous match while exploiting Wozniacki’s still-tepid second serve.  While the fast surface will enhance Sharapova’s massive first-strike potential, it also sometimes exposes her shortcomings in movement and footwork.  As these two vastly divergent styles collide, the match may be seized by who departs from her comfort zone more adroitly.  Will Caroline muster the courage to take additional risks, or will Maria muster the consistency to prevail in elongated rallies on key points?   Contrary to the sports cliché, defense rarely wins championships in women’s tennis, but last year’s finalist hopes to change that trend.  Sharapova, on the other hand, intends to preserve it.

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Fish vs. Djokovic

The toast of Cincinnati a few weeks ago, Fish nearly became ordinary toast when he fell behind the underwhelming Hajek two sets to one in his opener.  More suited to a best-of-three than a best-of-five format, the American nevertheless has relied upon his immensely improved fitness to win a pair of fifth sets in New York, despite falling short of the brilliance that he displayed during the preparatory events.  Mardy must raise his level immediately in order to conquer an opponent whom he has consistently threatened but never overcome, a three-time US Open semifinalist.  Dominant for most of his third-round victory over Blake, Djokovic showed no mental frailty when confronted with a largely hostile crowd and will be prepared for a similar atmosphere on Monday afternoon.  While Fish has acquired a reputation for serve-and-volley exploits, his late-career surge has been built upon enhanced lateral movement, which will enable him to survive elongated rallies better than in previous years.  Meeting the Serb twice at Indian Wells in the last three years, the American extended his higher-ranked foe to a third set on both occasions, only to fade in the decider.  In order to evade a similar fate, the home hope must start more impressively than did Blake against Djokovic, concentrating his energies upon protecting his serve.  Both players have endured pronounced peaks and valleys throughout their first few matches, perhaps an indicator of the Serb’s indifferent focus and the high-risk style to which the American still adheres.  In addition to multiple mini-momentum shifts, we anticipate some scintillating backhand-to-backhand battles; although Fish and Djokovic project just as much power from their forehands, their two-handers remain the more consistent weapons.

(Congratulate us on writing an entire lengthy paragraph about Fish without a single aquatic witticism.)

Petkovic vs. Zvonareva

In this spongy section of the draw, opportunity knocks for an ambitious German who edged Petrova in a third-set tiebreak and saved three match points a round later.  Likely to reach the top 20 in the future, Petkovic summoned her most compelling tennis at the most crucial moments, a pattern that should delight her fans.  Beyond her fierce serve and groundstroke combinations, she is gaining greater comfort in the forecourt and a sturdier composure under pressure.  Opposite this developing star stands the Wimbledon finalist, who can prove herself more than just another flavor of the month with a semifinal appearance here.  Not equipped to outslug the heaviest artillery in the WTA, Zvonareva’s crisp, balanced groundstrokes complement her elegant movement and leave opponents with few flaws to target.  Yet her infamous propensity for meltdowns has hampered the Russian on the grandest stages, including an excruciating, tear-soaked loss to Pennetta in her most recent evening appearance on Arthur Ashe.  If the match stays competitive, we’ll be intrigued to note whether she has banished her inner demons, as she claims, or whether they merely lie dormant.  Will the night session’s electric atmosphere influence either player, neither of whom is accustomed to regularly showcasing their talents in such an imposing venue?  While Petkovic should treat this match and this tournament as a valuable learning experience, her veteran foe will labor under the pressure of expectations.  Vera generally flourishes on the more informal atmosphere of the outer courts, but now it’s time for her to stand and deliver.

Gasquet vs. Monfils

Amidst the mighty servers who always prosper at the Open, two flamboyant shotmakers will drench New York with Gallic flair.  Soaring through three rounds without dropping a set, Gasquet vanquished the highly divergent playing styles of Davydenko and Kevin Anderson with expert returning, even breaking the towering South African four times.  The former prodigy still times his groundstrokes with uncanny precision and breathtaking imagination, while his opponent slides, dives, and leaps around the courts with balletic grace.  Usually a stronger server than Gasquet, Monfils will expect to win more free points but usually will play much further behind the baseline once the rally begins.  Content to remain on defense, Gael typically will allow Richard to unleash his groundstrokes and rely upon spectacular stabs and retrievals to frustrate his compatriot.  Don’t be surprised to see Monfils attempt Federer’s between-the-legs shot at a key moment, for he famously prefers the journey to the destination.  On the other hand, he found sufficient mental reserves to erode Tipsarevic a round after the Serb had toppled Roddick.  While neither of these Frenchmen represents a serious title contender, the jumping forehand of Monfils and the down-the-line backhand of Gasquet constitute two of the most reality-defying groundstrokes in the sport.  In their only Slam meeting at the 2007 Australian Open, Richard prevailed in four erratic but entertaining sets.  If he can take time away from his countryman by charging into the forecourt, he could repeat the accomplishment here.  But the swaggering insouciance of Monfils generally reaps more impressive results than the fragile hopefulness manifested by Gasquet.

***

As blondes battle, Serbs hook fish, and Gael winds blow, we wonder what Day 8 will serve…

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